US Gun Legislation: What It Is, What Went Wrong, and What We Can Do To Fix It


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Current United States gun laws mandate a background check focused on any aspects of the buyer that could make them a potential threat in the eyes of the law, such as drug addiction, severe mental illness, illegal citizenship, or having been charged with a restraining order or felony offense. These checks are overseen and regulated by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Ideally, if any of these disqualifying factors apply to a customer, they are legally prevented from purchasing a firearm.

What are the issues with the current policy?

 One problem is that the system can only be as strong as the records it contains. As of 2015, Congress estimates nearly 21 million criminal records are not accessible by NICS, and millions more are incomplete. One recent example is Nicolas Cruz, the student responsible for the recent school shooting in Florida on February 14. Cruz passed his background check and purchased his AR-15 (semi-automatic rifle) within three days, despite a number of police calls that had been filed against him in the past regarding drug abuse, violent outbursts, domestic assault claims, and animal abuse.

When it comes to mental health and substance abuse records, certain states have the liberty to refuse to submit these records to the NICS, and others simply neglect the responsibility. The only records of mental health that are legally required to be submitted to the system are those that contain evidence that a person has been involuntarily confined to a psychiatric institution by a court or other authority.

Another prominent issue is the series of omissions in the NICS gun legislation, such as the “yellow light” system. When the initial scan leaves the buyer’s eligibility in doubt, the application is given a “yellow light,” and FBI examiners have three business days to track down the information that will resolve whether the sale should move forward; after that deadline, the purchase can go through even if the background check remains incomplete. It was under this exception that Nickolas Cruz purchased his rifle, and Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was able to purchase a gun despite records of disqualifying drug abuse. The gunmen in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting, Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre, and Virginia Tech rampage each had a history that banned them from owning firearms. Yet none were stopped, because of loopholes in the system.

In fact, according to NBC, more than 82 percent of guns used in mass shootings since 1982 have been obtained legally and with little to no federal resistance. The NICS background checks have also been accused of being far too brief and not sufficiently thorough, the overwhelming majority of gun background checks in the US taking just minutes to clear the posing customer, and only 2 percent of all applications resulting in a rejection.

What are the impacts of these inadequacies?

March 14, 2018, the day before high schools all over the country walked out in response to gun violence, marked the one month anniversary of the Parkland shooting- and took place only a week after 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington lost her life, shot dead by a classmate at Huffman High School. So far, 2018 has suffered the most mass shootings per month in U.S. History. On January 5, 2018, five civilians were shot and killed at Ed’s Car Wash in Melcroft, Pennsylvania. February 10, five lives were taken due to a murder-suicide in Paintsville, Kentucky. The next day, seven shots were fired in Detroit, Michigan, injuring three people and taking the lives of four. Byron Jackson and Jamar Robinson were killed in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 13, and three more were seriously injured. Only 24 hours later and it’s February 14, the day 17 innocent lives were stolen at Parkland High School, Florida, many of the youngest victims only 14 years old. Since the GSHS school walkout on March 14, 14 mass shootings have occurred, injuring 88 people and killing 24. These mark only a few of the 89 mass shootings this year. I have had to update that number at least once a week in writing this piece. According to MassShootingTracker.org, in 2016, the number of mass shootings by today’s date, April 18, was 76. In 2015, it was 55. This has always been a problem, but our situation is steadily getting more desperate.

 

What solutions are being proposed?

The gun control issue is not a matter of opposing parties with differing views against each other. I, a gun-control activist, know that the majority of gun-rights activists don’t want anyone to be shot. I would hope that we all want the same things  – we want to be safe, we want the people around us to be safe, and we want justice for those who have needlessly lost their lives.

We just have different ideas regarding the right way of going about it. Regarding that issue  – there are two important things to remember.

The first is that there is never going to be one perfect solution to the problem. Therefore “Gun control isn’t the only issue” is not a valid argument against stricter gun control. Yes, let’s work towards more community service, yes, let’s crack down on bullying and mental health awareness in schools, but stricter gun control would not obstruct those things from happening  – there’s no reason we can’t do all three. We cannot sit here while people are dying and shoot down every suggestion that doesn’t have a100% effectiveness.

Secondly, If you are opposed to stricter gun control- it is important to realize exactly what is being proposed. The idea of undergoing a thorough background check and specialized training before being able to use something that could potentially cause harm is not a radical concept. Take a driver’s license, for instance. In the state of Colorado, it takes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom lessons, 6 hours of professional behind-the-wheel training, (or, for minors, 12 hours of training with a legal guardian), and 50 hours of driving practice just to qualify for a driving permit. For the vast majority of consumers in the U.S., the process of purchasing a firearm is completed within a single phone call. Now, let’s compare an automatic rifle such as the M16  to a semi-truck. Compared to a semi-automatic rifle, the bullets within an automatic rifle are fired continuously until the trigger is released. The same way shootings and misfires using automatic rifles tend to result in a much greater number of casualties than with semi-automatics; semi-truck accidents are commonly more devastating than regular car crashes. And so,, even for an already licensed driver, If you want to buy a semi-truck, you need a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL. To get a CDL, there are stricter age limits than a regular license, as well as required hours of training and study. There’s a written test and a driving test. There are more legal, medical, and mental health requirements. These requirements are in place because a semi-truck is a tool with the capability to take lives  – and there is no logical reason that the same stringency should not apply to firearms.

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